Computer science is more than using laptops. Computer science is more than preparing and attempting to pass an assessment (although I do encourage all to try their best if given the opportunity).
Computer science is more than using laptops. Computer science is more than following an online curriculum that usually starts with your code producing the following: “Hello, World!” Computer science is more than preparing and attempting to pass an assessment (although I do encourage all to try their best if given the opportunity).
Computer science changes the way you think and how you see the world and some of the problems in it. CS encourages collaborative efforts to rethink how to be creative in problem-solving efforts that can have a large impact on the world. When I was first introduced to CS as a teacher during a PD, I was introduced to the curriculum intended to assist me in teaching my students (or, better yet, keeping at least a week ahead of them). I also had the opportunity to have my turtle print “Hello, World!”, which helped me feel I can call myself a programmer. Over the course of my first year, I dealt with many students who were excited about being in a CS class for the first time, but after a while, some of that passion was lost due to the repetitive nature of the class and only experiencing CS through the lens of their computer screens. Years later, I can admit some of this was my own fault as their teacher who didn’t find a way to change the pace of the lessons and incorporate more engaging lessons. But like many new CS teachers, trying to understand the content is half the battle before strategizing all the various ways they can teach the content to their students. As I was walking around New York City, it hit me: What does CS look like outside of the classroom?
Growing up in NYC, I was aware of careers in law, finance, business, accounting, etc., that filled offices in these skyscrapers. But with the progression of technology and new tech companies promoted everywhere, I was curious about what CS looked like in their workspaces. Thanks to some promotional videos, I was able to find videos that highlighted the work atmosphere in some of these companies that I could highlight for my students. This was a good start, but it wasn’t enough; what was needed next was an opportunity for students to take their CS experiences and understanding to the next level and visit these offices in their backyard.
I quickly reached out to some college friends and inquired about any potential opportunities to visit their offices or at least if they knew of anyone in their network who was willing to do so. I was immediately surprised by the outpour of volunteers willing to host my students. What started off as one trip turned into 3-4 a semester. Students not in my CS class would reach out to me and inquire if they would be able to attend; returning graduates would come back during their breaks and offer to serve as chaperones in order to attend the next trip. Some of these companies even offered to host my students as we worked on our class projects. Going on these trips helped revitalize my students into the passion they had at the beginning of the year.
While the students enjoyed the perks of being out of school, visiting the tall buildings of NYC, and meeting actual employees of some of these companies they have only learned about from their tv or phone screens or an item they purchased. CS concepts discussed in class were brought to life. Students were able to discuss with the employees the impact of their work on a daily basis on society, how they collected and used from their consumers, and even about all the career opportunities for those not interested in being a programmer. Some of the conversations held during these trips also led to internship opportunities for some of my students, as well as the suggestion of hosting a hackathon at our school to mimic some of the events done in the industry. In the end, there was a clear representation and correlation between the work being done in my class and the translation into the real world. The added bonus of interacting with a diverse group of professionals was a needed bonus to help my students grasp that people like them have opportunities like this available to them. There are a lot of things CS isn’t, but more real-world connection can help students understand what CS is and can be.
I’m well aware of the privilege I have living in NYC to partner with several tech companies to make opportunities like this possible, but I still have some suggestions on what next steps any teacher can take to make something like this happen. My first recommendation would be to speak to your school and district representatives to see if they are aware of any opportunities that can possibly align with your classroom. Next, I would recommend reaching out to any local tech companies that may be in your community or nearby; if you have already spoken with your admin and district, they may be willing to assist if there is an extended commute. Along with local tech companies, it may also be helpful to reach out to your local college and/ or university, especially if they have a CS dept. Another great resource can be your local CSTA chapter; this can be a great way to connect and partner with other educators who may be interested in co-planning a trip with you. Finally, if you can’t schedule an in-person visit to start, you can attempt to schedule a virtual one, to begin with, and see what opportunities develop from there in the future. Building a partnership early on may develop into something greater for you and your classes for years to come.
About the Author
Donald Saint-Germain is a high school Computer Science and 9-12 English Language Arts in New York City at the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice. Mr. Saint-Germain embarked on his journey into CS via professional developments offered by the NYCDOE CS4ALL team since 2016. Each year he has returned as either a participant or teacher trainer. Mr. Saint-Germain is passionate about incorporating technology into the classroom to improve students’ learning opportunities as he sees this as a vital aspect in preparing his students to be active participants in the 21st Century. Throughout his 5 years teaching CS, he has spent his time and efforts establishing a culture in which teachers and students are engaged academic citizens by using technology to communicate and enhance learning opportunities for all. His vision for delivering CS education focuses on expanding opportunities for each grade level to provide more learning opportunities for students in and outside of the classroom, with several of his CS students being awarded internships. In the past years, Mr. Saint-Germain has been awarded as a Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship, Teach for America CS Fellow, NYCDOE CS4ALL Blueprint Fellow and Ingenuity Team Member, CSforAllTeachers Inaugural CS in the Wild Community Ambassador, and Model and Peer Collaborative Teacher from the NYCDOE Teacher Leadership office and UFT.